The Rohnert Park City Council met in regular session June 8. The almost 4-hour meeting dealt with a variety of items, three of which pertained to fireworks. A significant action was the cancellation of the proposed fireworks show on July 4, 2021. A combination of events led up to this decision.
For background, in April, the council adopted an ordinance that banned the sale and use of fireworks. They also directed staff to look at funding options using the City of Rohnert Park Foundation grants to replace non-profits’ fireworks fundraising revenue for at least one year. And staff was to look at holding a July 4 community event celebrating the holiday. Subsequently, a referendum petition against the ordinance was submitted. On May 25 they accepted the referendum results and directed staff to prepare a resolution to put the ordinance on a Special Election scheduled for September 14.
Tonight, they adopted Resolution 2021-065. This formally calls for a special election allowing the city’s voters to decide whether the fireworks ban would go into effect. Estimated cost of this special election ranges between $90,000 to $142,000. They also decided not to submit an argument for or against the ban in voting materials. The city attorney is required to prepare an “Impartial Analysis” explaining to voters what the impacts are and what their “yes” or “no” vote means. She stressed the importance of voters reading the ballot materials.
The proposed ballot question was “Shall Ordinance No. 954, An Ordinance of the City Council of the City of Rohnert Park Repealing and Replacing Chapter 9.49 of the Rohnert Park Municipal Code to Prohibit the Sale and use of Fireworks, be adopted?” If a majority of voters vote in favor (a yes vote), then the ban will be enacted 10 days after the certification of election results. If voters do not vote to enact the ordinance (a no vote), the ordinance will not go into effect. Further, the council can not adopt another similar ordinance for one year from the date of its disapproval.
An update on the city’s planned “Fireworks Spectacular Show” scheduled for July 4 followed. Cindy Bagley, Deputy Director of City Services, gave the presentation. Mayor Gerard Giudice turned the meeting over to Vice Mayor Jackie Elward, excusing himself because he leases a property at the planned SOMO Village event site. Cost was estimated at 60-65 thousand dollars, offset by donations of $30,000 from sponsors. There was no impact on the city’s general fund, as the money was already available in the community services budget because of savings from many cancelled events due to COVID-19. It would have allowed 550 parking spaces for on-site viewing, plus the display would have been visible within a 3,000-foot radius with fireworks reaching up to 800 feet in the air. In comparison, the Green Music Center fireworks shows in the past only reached 400 feet. There were already registrations for 270 parking spaces.
During council discussion, the question was raised by Council member Pam Stafford of “why even have this show?” Elward stated they should wait on the outcome of the special election. Council member Willy Linares said he struggled with his decision. He wished the staff had come back to the council before advertising the event. But he also said this event was based on being “in lieu of” not being able to sell or use fireworks. Now that they can be sold pending the outcome of the special election, he decided this event should be cancelled. Only Council member Susan Hollingsworth Adams thought the city should move forward given all the work already done by staff and sponsors. In the end, the majority decided to cancel. They also accepted the Foundation’s recommendation not to create a one-year grant program to replace loss revenue for non-profits. Here too, since the ban is up for vote and fireworks can be sold, there was no need to create this program. City Manager Darrin Jenkins reported 14 permits to sell fireworks have been granted so far.
In other council news, June 2021 was proclaimed as Elder Abuse Awareness Month and June 19 was designated Juneteenth in the City of Rohnert Park. As read and described by Elward, Juneteenth is an important holiday in the African American community because June 19 was the day slavery finally ended in America. The council also approved a resolution establishing a community facilities district and authorizing a special tax within that district that would add up to $2,155 per unit each year for a housing development off Keiser Avenue (Bristol Services). The operating budget for the Fiscal Year 2021-22 was approved.
Finally, they approved the 2021 Small Grants program funding recommendations. This is the third cycle of that program. The budget was $100,000 with a maximum award of $5,000. Thirty-seven applications were received requesting grants amounting to $177,352. Twenty-four grants were awarded, most focused on youth activities. Examples included the Expeditionary Learning Parents Association to build an outdoor classroom at Lawrence Jones Middle School; Mentor Me to establish a pilot program at John Reed Elementary; and The LIME Foundation to establish a Trade Academy at Rancho Cotate High School. Five other applications were recommended to be funded from the American Rescue Plan Covid-19 relief and recovery monies. These included Food for Thought that delivers food to Rohnert Park homes in need and to Neighbors Organized Against Hunger with a contribution to their food bank.